Earlier this month, George Mason University professor Michael F. Young flew into Manassas in his little plane with eight dogs. This weekend he’ll fly a bunch more, taking them from shelters where they would be put to death and bringing them to new owners.
He started soon after his German Shepherd died of cancer, when someone who knew he had a plane asked him to help get two abandoned German Shepherds to a family that wanted them.
There’s an online network of pilots, people looking for pets and looking for homes. He usually picks up dogs from a woman in North Carolina who takes dogs she believes are adoptable — not the sickest or the most aggressive — off of death row, and he flies them to Pennsylvania.
“She says, ‘I’ve got these dogs that have to go,’ she sends pictures of them,” he said. “It really tugs at your heart. And I get suckered into it.”
Young, who has been flying for fun since he was in graduate school, puts cardboard and blankets down in the back, and often has volunteers along on the flight to pat and comfort the dogs.
Once he flew 17 puppies at once, taking the back seats out of his plane.
In September, he helped coordinate 40 planes rescuing 172 dogs.
He’s learned some things along the way: If the dog seems really hyper, put him in a crate for the trip. Give all the dogs a long walk before the flight (otherwise things turn out badly for the volunteers holding them.) Be careful with pregnant dogs — no one wants nine puppies to arrive up in the clouds.
And it’s expensive — $1 and change per mile. So he’s hoping they can find some havens for dogs in the D.C. area to cut the flight time.
Young had a company that went public in 2004, in his early 50s, “and became a bum,” he said. He does some consulting, teaches in the electrical engineering and information technology departments at George Mason University, advising seniors inventing crazy little robots and other interesting projects, and does a little flight instruction from time to time.
And of course, not long after he started this volunteer work, he fell for a funny-looking, happy little dog, one of a pack he brought to a rescue group in Staten Island. That night, he kept thinking about the dog. And thinking about her. So he went back the next day, put Molly back in the plane, and flew her home, to stay.
Watch a video (below) of Lilly getting a hug from Lisa. Lilly was a very last minute addition to a flight and only made it on board since another dog had to cancel.